Life is a hard battle anyway. If we caught and sing a little as we fight the good fight of freedom, it makes it all go easier. I will not allow my life’s light to be determined by the darkness around me.
— American women’s rights activist Soujourner Truth
I FEAR my better-half, Heidi, believes it’s no longer important to cast her vote this May 9 because she feels all the candidates running for elective positions in this year’s polls are all one and the same—corrupt and selfish and not really caring about the plight of the country and its citizens.
It’s actually been more than a decade that she felt this way, especially with what she has witnessed in the leadership and administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, whom we had campaigned for in the last national elections in 2016.
Those times—six years ago—we thought Digong was up to the task of healing the country’s ills, namely criminality (that includes the drug scourge) and more stressfully the prevalence of corruption in government—from the lowest unit of governance (the barangays) to the highest post in Malacañang.
As it is, we view the former Davao City mayor’s presidency as a failure because illegal drugs and addiction are still a problem and so are other crimes, aside from growing unemployment and rampant graft and corruption in various agencies of government.
And so my wife feels dismayed and she no longer has the enthusiasm to exercise her right of suffrage. She thinks her single vote would be a cry in the wilderness and no bearing in the outcome of the polls after election day.
Still, I am trying to dissuade her from this because every vote in a democracy such as ours has its weight—despite the outcome.
And we realize that the votes of vulnerable Filipinos matter too. With the election around the corner, everyone—including those most at risk from Covid-19—must be given the right to cast their ballot.
And so in the third year of the coronavirus pandemic, we ask how accessible are the elections to vulnerable sectors of society? Despite the number of new Covid-19 cases having gone down, a development that put many provinces on Alert Level 1 (the least restrictive status), the risk of another surge is still not a remote possibility. Cases significantly went down last November but started to rise again during the Christmas holidays.
So can we imagine elderly people, vulnerable to the virus, braving the crowds of voters in a pandemic? In the 2019 midterm elections, only 3 percent of the more than eight million elderly voters cast their ballots. (The Coalition for the Elderly has estimated an increase of up to 10 million elderly voters during the upcoming May elections).
If the government looks at this matter during this pandemic, an improvement in the elderly voter turnout would be more difficult, nay impossible, to achieve.
Still, the voice of the vulnerable, which is rightfully equal to the voices of the rest of society, should be an integral part of the sovereign will of the people in determining the country’s future.
Yet those with disabilities, such as the deaf, blind, and physically handicapped, will experience difficulties if the government does not give special attention to them, as well as heavily pregnant women.
Moreover, the right to suffrage of heavily pregnant women, who physically have limitations to be among crowds of voters on Election Day, must be equally safeguarded and upheld.
So again we ask, how will the government help the vulnerable fully exercise their sacred right to suffrage?
To prevent disenfranchisement, it is very important to look at these people’s distinct needs during elections to ensure that their right to vote is respected. Their voice, equal to the voices of the rest of society, should be an integral part of the sovereign will of the people in determining the country’s future.
In the conduct of clean, fair, and honest elections, extra efforts must be exerted and services provided to ensure the vulnerable, disadvantaged, and marginalized can take part in ensuring the victory of the sovereign will of the people in the choice of their leaders.
And to make the elections accessible especially to the vulnerable, information dissemination is necessary to facilitate their knowledge of the candidates and their platforms.”
Due to their physical limitations, the mobility of the vulnerable during elections necessitates paramount consideration. Thus, public transport that will bring them to polling stations is basic.
Moreover, providing appropriate public buildings and infrastructure must be made accessible to respond to their needs.
People who need to assist the vulnerable must be psychologically and technically equipped with the necessary capacity and sensitivity. For deaf voters, designation of an adequate number of sign language interpreters and providing them photos of candidates are necessary for them to be able to make informed choices.
Assistance to blind voters in locating their precincts and providing them with helping devices are basic requirements. Their distinct needs, which include the availability of braille ballots, must be provided. Respect for the secrecy of the ballots is equally important.
And in the context of the pandemic, it is most imperative to provide special attention to the vulnerable, whose right to vote is as sacred as every other voter’s, yet whose physical limitations need the government’s full support.
The votes of society’s vulnerable equally matter as former US president Barack Obama had once said: “There’s no such thing as a vote that doesn’t matter. It all matters.”
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